‘Structurally unsound’ school still awaiting replacement building

Oireachtas committee hears concerns from principals over delays in school buildings

St Paul’s Secondary School, Monasterevin, Co Kildare, was damaged by an explosion in 2000 and subsequently provided with replacement prefab units. Photograph: Google Street View

St Paul’s Secondary School, Monasterevin, Co Kildare, was damaged by an explosion in 2000 and subsequently provided with replacement prefab units. Photograph: Google Street View

 

A secondary school deemed “structurally unsound” following a gas explosion almost 15 years ago is still waiting for a replacement building, an Oireachtas committee has heard.

St Paul’s Secondary School, Monasterevin, Co Kildare – a small co-educational school with disadvantaged status – was damaged by an explosion in 2000 and was provided with replacement prefab units.

School principal Brian Bergin said it has been forced to cope with overcrowded and cramped conditions since.

While the Department of Education said the original school building was structurally unsound and needed to be replaced, Mr Bergin said the construction date has been continually pushed out.

Mr Bergin was one of a number of school principals at an Oireachtas education committee on Tuesday who expressed frustration over delays in the provision of promised buildings.

They also criticised a lack of communication from officials and a lack of transparency over the status of projects.

Ballinteer Educate Together National School said it was in its sixth year of using prefab units with “no prospect of a purpose-built school” for up to two or three more years.

Whitecross School in Julianstown, Co Meath, said it had been approved for a new school more than decade ago. It provides school places for the local community and asylum seekers based at Mosney.

Mr Bergin said the latest department estimate put the anticipated opening date for a new building at St Paul’s at March 2021.

“How can we reasonably expect this completion date to materialise after the last 13 years?” he asked. “The past 13 years have been filled with excitement, expectation, hope, frustration and, latterly, anger and despair.”

He said there were insufficient classrooms and specialist rooms at the school, which restricted subject choice. The toilets are “wholly inadequate” and prefabs had occupied more “precious yard space”.

Department officials told the committee that while it published “indicative timelines” for the construction of school buildings, a range of factors can delay matters. These included the acquisition of sites and obtaining planning permission.

The department said land prices, for example, have been on an upward trajectory in recent years in line with increasing residential values. Where land is on the open market and a bidding process ensues it can fetch significantly higher values than the original valuation may have indicated. This can be because of potential for residential development.

Hubert Loftus, departmental assistant secretary general with responsibility for school planning, acknowledged a historic under investment in the sector. But he said investment in recent years has ramped up and 365 “large scale projects” have been completed since 2010, providing about 130,000 school places.

The National Development Plan, he said, would mean investment increases significantly over the coming decade.

Mr Loftus said the department is liaising with 4,000 schools on building-related issues. However, he added that he took on board the criticism of school principals and Oireachtas members and would seek to examine ways of improving communications with individual schools.